Alzheimer’s Disease Could Be Caused By This Gross Habit, Say Scientists

A new study has made a stunning connection between this seemingly harmless act and an escalated chance of enduring progressive dementia.

Alzheimer’s Disease Could Be Caused By This Gross Habit, Say Scientists

Image: DMARGE/Romer Macapuno

Health is a total minefield. From the counterintuitive and little-known risks of intermittent fasting to the terrifying repercussions of getting too little sleep, so the last thing we all need to hear is that a gross but very common habit could be linked to a life-ruining disease.

A new study has made a stunning connection between the seemingly harmless act of picking your nose and an escalated chance of enduring progressive dementia. The specific culprit is a protein known as beta-amyloid, which is considered a leading factor in Alzheimer’s disease pathology.

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The researchers discovered that beta-amyloid might be produced in the brain as a defence response to pathogens that enter through the nasal cavity which are themselves introduced by the act of inserting dirty fingers into the nose, inadvertently inviting neuroinflammation linked to Alzheimer’s. The brain’s defence mechanism against these microbial invaders, through the production of beta-amyloid, signifies something of a double-edged sword in the fight against dementia.

Published in the peer-reviewed journal Biomolecules, the study highlighted that beta-amyloid could possess antibacterial properties aimed at combating infections within the brain. The connection between viral, fungal, and bacterial infections and Alzheimer’s disease further underscores the risk:

“Neuroinflammation in [Alzheimer’s disease] might be partially caused by pathogens entering the brain through the olfactory system…. There is even some evidence to suggest that [beta-amyloid] may have antibacterial properties as a defence mechanism against microbial infections in the brain.”

Study in Biomolecules

With an estimated 6.5 million Americans aged 65 and older diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, understanding and mitigating potential risk factors is more crucial than ever. Alzheimer’s accounts for a significant portion of the 55 million people suffering from dementia worldwide, with these numbers only set to rise as demographic aging takes hold.

Group of old Indian senior men relax on a park bench in Bangalore, India
An ageing population will only make the problem of Alzheimer’s and dementia more acute. Image: Stock

This puts a massive strain not only on the lives of those suffering with their friends and families, but also on healthcare systems around the world that face increasing burdens from a currently-incurable and fast-growing disease.

Authors advocate that we all take it easy on the nose-picking, emphasizing that the brief relief it provides does not outweigh the apparently life-saving importance of maintaining proper nasal hygiene. They recommend gentler and less-gross cleaning methods, such as saline nasal rinses or simply blowing the nose, to keep the nasal passages clear.

In the wake of the COVID pandemic, you’d like to think that everyone’s hygiene game had taken a significant step up. However, this study shows that we’ve got a fair way to go. Are you a nose-picker? Or do you find it repellent? More importantly, would you be willing to give up your favourite habit for your health? Let us know.